PRIOR TO HIS DEATH on October 27, 2013, Lou Reed supervised the remastering and restoration of some of his greatest works. The result – the RCA & Arista Album Collection box set – is released on October 7, but you can get more than a taste on MOJO magazine’s latest free CD, which presents 15 key tracks in chronological order. The aim is to provide a representative view of a master storyteller who continually redefined the possibilities of rock’n’roll, on what we like to think is one of MOJO’s best ever covermounts. Here are the songs we chose and you can enjoy as part of this month’s MOJO package, on sale in the UK from Tuesday, September 27. -----------------------------------------
1. Lisa Says (from Lou Reed, 1972) Two years after his departure from The Velvet Underground Lou Reed finally returned with his first solo record. Recorded at Morgan Studios in London, the self-titled effort saw him employ a number of UK session musicians, drummer Clem Cattini and Yes pair Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe among them. Musically, he returned to a cache of hitherto unreleased songs he’d written for the Velvets, this reading of Lisa Says among them – resplendent with its curious bridge.
2. Andy’s Chest (from Transformer, 1972) If Lou’s solo debut sounded a tad uncertain, his second offering, Transformer, brought his songwriting into sharp focus. Aided and abetted by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, Reed found himself in a rare position where his ambition was encouraged. The result was a career-defining effort, propelled by the irresistible Walk On The Wild Side. Andy’s Chest – a bittersweet tribute to his old mentor Andy Warhol – was another nod to his VU past.
3. How Do You Think It Feels (from Berlin, 1973) Rather than taking the easy option of building on the accessibility and commercial success of Transformer (Top 20 in the UK; Top 30 in the US), Reed elected to deliver Berlin, a complex rock opera centred around a doomed couple, Caroline and Jim. Harrowing themes of drug use, domestic abuse and suicide were matched by Bob Ezrin’s dramatic production, How Do You Think It Feels juxtaposing Reed’s lyrical nonchalance with the music’s heavy-duty feel.
4. White Light/White Heat (from Rock’n’Roll Animal, 1974) Bob Ezrin enlisted guitarists Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter to work on Berlin and they would become the bedrock of Alice Cooper’s band. In the interim, the pair headed to New York to play a show with Lou at Howard Stein’s Academy of Music for what became the Rock’n’Roll Animal live set. Once again Reed drew on his VU back catalogue, the hypnotic art-rock originals receiving a glam-stomp makeover, as this rapacious version of White Light/White Heat underlines.
5. Kill Your Sons (from Sally Can’t Dance, 1974) The first Lou Reed solo studio album to be recorded in New York, Sally Can’t Dance was also the first of his albums not to feature any material from his Velvets days. That said, it’s easy to hear the wry Kill Your Sons as a track that he could have penned in ’68. The album became Reed’s highest-charting effort to date, denting the US Top 10. He would react to that startling success in a spectacular fashion…
6. Metal Machine Music Pt 1 (from Metal Machine Music, 1975) “As a statement, it’s great; as a giant FUCK YOU it shows integrity,” wrote Lester Bangs on the subject of Metal Machine Music. A double album featuring four tracks of drone-inspired, squalling guitar noise, legend has it that Reed demanded it be released on RCA’s classical Red Seal label. Viewed as an act of commercial suicide, today it continues to divide opinion, though many view it as the precursor to the NYC noise scene that emerged a decade later.
7. She’s My Best Friend (from Coney Island Baby, 1976) While Lou had cut this track with the Velvet Underground back in 1969, that version wouldn’t surface until the release of the VU compilation in 1985. Revisiting the track for his sixth album, Coney Island Baby, Reed replaced the psychedelic drive of the original with a sense of rock classicism. Indeed, the presence of Kiss acolyte Bob Kulick on guitar added a heft that echoed the work of Messrs Wagner and Hunter two years earlier.
8. Follow The Leader (from Rock And Roll Heart, 1976) Switching from RCA to Arista records. Reed absorbed the influences of the burgeoning NYC club scene and delivered an album that was surprisingly upbeat. As its title suggests, Rock And Roll Heart also seemed an attempt to recapture a lost innocence. Once again he returned to his past, re-working this tune which he’d written for the Velvets but adding a street groove powered by sax player Marty Fogel and the busy percussion work of drummer Michael Suchorsky.
9. Real Good Time Together (from Street Hassle, 1978) If Coney Island Baby and Rock And Roll Heart possessed a certain nostalgic quality, then Street Hassle (with its 11-minute title track) was packed with bleak self-analysis. Its unsettling quality was emphasised by its sonic innovations (it pioneered the experimental “binaural” recording technique, developed to deliver a ‘wraparound’ listening experience). Reed's take on this Velvets tune ripples with an evident ennui, his detached vocal at odds with the tune's main refrain.
10. I Want To Boogie With You (from The Bells, 1979) While the critics loved Street Hassle, its successor, The Bells, was less lauded. Once again Lester Bangs stepped in to defend Lou in Rolling Stone magazine, declaring it to be one of Reed's finest efforts. Bangs praised its brave marriage of jazz-fusion textures and street rock smarts (as exemplified on this sly, languorous track). If the production has since dated a tad, certain tunes have not – the title track and this seductive cut among them.
11. Teach The Gifted Children (from Growing Up In Public, 1980) To those who viewed Reed as the high priest of punk-orientated nihilism, his first album of the ’80s came as something of a shock. In fact, the personal lyricism that permeated Growing Up In Public appeared to reflect his marriage to Sylvia Morales, while musically the album marked the end of his neo-funk sound. The languid Teach The Gifted Children meanwhile sounded like a song of reconciliation if not redemption.
12. The Gun (from The Blue Mask, 1982) One of the finest albums of Reed’s career, The Blue Mask contained further musings on the artist’s newfound domestic happiness (the closing Heavenly Arms a case in point). However, The Gun – as its title suggests, a rumination on firearms and one of Reed’s most overlooked tunes – remains the album’s standout track, the semi-spoken word section where Reed intones “I’ll put a hole in your face/If you even breathe a word” full of chilling menace.
13. Make Up My Mind (from Legendary Hearts, 1983) The musical shift and emotional power of The Blue Mask meant that its successor, Legendary Hearts, was somewhat overlooked. Maintaining his musical relationship with guitarist Robert Quine and bassist Fernando Saunders, Reed continued to explore a sparser sound underlined by lyrical self-doubt (as on Bottoming Out) and heartfelt observation (Betrayed). Indeed, on this tune despair appears to lurk just below the surface.
14. Fly Into The Sun (from New Sensations, 1984) “I would not run from the holocaust/I would not run from the bomb,” begins Reed on this tune from his 13th solo album. It may not sound like the cheeriest of opening couplets, but critics hailed New Sensations as one of his most accessible albums to date, Rolling Stone describing it as “joyfully human”. In that respect, Fly Into The Sun is the sound of a 42-year-old unflinching at the prospect of meeting his maker.
15. I Remember You (from Mistrial, 1986) With his final album for RCA, Reed appeared to be sizing up his peers – both Bowie and Iggy Pop had flirted with the mainstream – and a raft of artists clogging up MTV’s playlist. As a result, 1986’s Mistrial is as close as he ever came to a blue collar rock record where he allowed himself to chuckle at contemporary culture (as on The Original Wrapper). Meanwhile, I Remember You was a big rock tune shot through with wistfulness.
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